A Broadcast Gone Terribly Wrong

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

We begin our newscast with breaking news from Charlie Jargon with the Channel 99 mobile newsroom . . .

Thanks, Dave. We're live at the scene in this normally quiet neighborhood where militant activists have taken to the streets to protest the overuse of cliches by TV newscasters. Details are sketchy but emotions are running high.

This ...Read more

Working Out a Two-State Solution

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

I recently asked readers how many common four-letter words they could make by combining the postal abbreviations of two states, e.g., CANE (California, Nebraska).

The response has left me, appropriately enough, in two states: both astounded by my readers' genius and delighted by the serendipitous juxtapositions of states.

True, it's not ...Read more

Practicing 'Alternative' Medicine

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: I often encounter the word "alternate" used in place of the word "alternative." In traffic reports, for instance, an alternative to the route having the traffic problem is often described as an "alternate route." Is "alternate" a legitimate alternate for "alternative"? -- Bill Danser, Columbus, N.J.

A: Someone from New Jersey is seeking ...Read more

Healthy, Wealthy and Whys

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

There's nothing better than feeling in the pink! You stride down the sidewalk with a smile on your face, a spring in your step and a disturbing question on your mind: Why do we say that someone in good health is "in the pink"?

This expression derives from, of all things, a flowering plant called "Dianthus." Because the petals of the Dianthus ...Read more

When 'Good' Words Break Bad

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

"I'm really grateful to all my enablers," a successful businesswoman recently told a TV interviewer.

"I'm an enabler," a blogger writes. "Through listening to others, I give the positive reinforcement that allows them to do things they never thought possible."

"The Holy Spirit is our enabler!" proclaims a TV evangelist.

What's going on here...Read more

Second Thoughts About Our Leaders

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Two dispatches from the Word Front ...

-- Take Me to Your Thought Leader -- Are you a "thought leader"? This trendy, amorphous term, which bears a slightly Orwellian whiff, refers to a renowned expert in a specialized field. But now the phrase is being applied regularly to anyone who has ever had a thought on anything: professors, writers, ...Read more

Going Around in Circles

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

The new "Ghostbusters" movie raises an urgent question -- no, not "Who ya' gonna call?" (which, of course, should properly be rendered "WHOM ya' gonna call?").

Instead, it's "WHAT ya' gonna call the red circle with the slash through it in the 'Ghostbusters' logo?" (You know, the roly-poly ghost -- Casper on Oreos -- stuffed behind the ...Read more

English Gives 'Erg' a Workout

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Feel the erg!

The Greek root "ergon" (work, activity) romps quite obviously in many English words, including "energy," "ergonomics" and "synergy." But sometimes it hides behind a disguise. It lurks incognito, for instance, in words as diverse as "allergy," "surgeon" and even "orgy."

"Allergy," coined in 1910 by the wonderfully named Austrian...Read more

These Pairs of Pants Have Zip(per) Codes

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Q: Why do we call a single item of clothing "a pair of pants"? -- Charlie Duncan, Potsdam, N.Y.

A: Being an average guy, I'll put on my answer one leg at a time.

English speakers use plural words for most garments worn over the legs, e.g. trousers, shorts, tights, drawers, knickers, leggings, trunks, pants (a contraction of "pantaloons," ...Read more

Putting the Men in Nomenclature

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Did you know there's a guy in your guppy? A fella in your salmonella? A boy in your boycott?

The guppy was named for a man whose full name was longer than the fish itself: Robert John Lechmere Guppy (1836-1916). Raised in a 13th-century Norman castle in England and shipwrecked as a young man off New Zealand, Guppy eventually landed as the ...Read more

Reading Between the Lines

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

In case you get stuck in an airport screening line this summer, bring along one of these fascinating new books on language and you'll literally be able to read it online.

Headed to a foreign country? Bring along "Are Some Languages Better than Others?" by linguist R. M. W. Dixon (Oxford University Press, $40). Dixon addresses the provocative ...Read more

I'm Humbled by This Sustainable Legacy

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Let's start with the good news. I've been spotting fewer of these Styrofoam cups polluting the river of English: "curate," "iconic," "artisanal," "double-down." But a small navy of other plastic bags and cigarette butts is floating in their wake:

--Legacy has legs: I have no problem with the noun "legacy," though, Lord knows, we're going to ...Read more

Donald Dissers Play 'Trump' Card

Knowledge / The Word Guy /

Call it political names-manship.

Commentators have been whacking away at Donald Trump's last name as if it were a big, fat pinata, and they've gleefully relished the nefarious meanings spilling out: to "trump up" means to fabricate; "trumpery" refers to worthless junk; "trump" may be a source of "strumpet"; and, in British slang, "to trump" ...Read more


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